Monday, March 14, 2011

Mid-Semester: Expanding the Conversation

At this point in the semester, you know your students as a group and have tested them enough to know where they are in their thinking. 

It's time to push them further and deepen their learning experience.

In order to do so, you and your students need to know where they are in the course.  First, they need a midterm progress report.  If you are already posting grades online, excellent.  

If you have not been posting grades, then student perceptions of their grades may not match the reality.  Give them a progress report so that you are on the same page before you talk to them about the course (for more on this topic, read Will Millhiser, "Why Post Grades on Blackboard?").

At midterm, they should know where they stand in terms of their learning and grades, and all you need to do is put that into perspective, in terms of the whole class.  In general, is everyone completing homework, for the most part?  Are they reading?  Participating in class?  Address these basic issues, and if the class is struggling, ask them, what is getting in your way?  They may be setting up barriers to their own learning (such as getting too involved with social groups or working too much), and they need to hear from you that you expect them to change their behaviors.   Give them advice on how to prepare better for class and learn more from the course.

When you ask your students to review their performance, also let them review yours. Check with them about their experiences with the course (again, have them a response at the end of a course).  This midpoint 'formative assessment' lets you know how the class is going from their point of view.  It sends a clear message to the students that they are participants in their own learning; education is not something that is "done to them."  Issues will come up that you can not fix and those you can ignore (after all, you cannot change the class meeting time).  Address those issues that you can change or modify--disturbances in class or distracting situations.  If they need more handouts, more frequent study guides, or need you to slow down, they will tell you.
Review the course objectives and learning outcomes with your students (they haven't thought about the syllabus for months, at this point, so remind them of it).  Talk to them about the goals of the course and remind them that the course is more about learning information.  Ask them: what more do you want from class at this point and how will you take charge of your learning? 

Find out where they can meet more challenges in the course.  Ask them to delve into their thinking and logic.  Socratic questioning works very well at this point, especially if they are used to coming prepared to answer questions in class.   The website by the Critical Thinking Foundation is very useful and thorough.  However, for a quick glance at question structures, check out this page on "Socratic Questioning."

Once you start asking questions, who knows what could happen!  They  might even take charge and ask questions of their own.

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